How to move a refrigerator

by Wolf Pascoe on May 28, 2012

Many years ago, before Nick was born, I received a lesson in patience I’ve never forgotten.

My mother had bought a new refrigerator and proposed to give me her old one. I was ready. Nora had just moved in and the one we had, fine for a single guy, was now too small.

“I know of a man who moves refrigerators,” my mother said. “He’s supposed to be nice. He doesn’t charge much.”

“Fine by me,” I said.

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MR. TOLLIVER

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The man’s name was Mr. Tolliver. I called him to make an appointment.

“Are there any special problems?” he said.

“No,” I said.

On the appointed day, Mr. Tolliver arrived at our house with my mother’s refrigerator in his flatbed truck. The Salvation Army had come for our old, too-small refrigerator the day before.

Mr. Tolliver was an African-American man with a placid demeanor and a considered manner of speech. Though large and well-muscled, you could imagine him cradling a baby. Mr. Tolliver brought his son with him, a boy about nine, Nick’s age now.

“I hope you don’t mind,” said Mr. Tolliver.

“Not at all,” I said.

Mr. Tolliver looked at the door to the kitchen and pulled out a measuring tape.

“That’s an awfully small doorway,” he said.

“It’s an old house,” I said. “I think they make doorways bigger now.”

“I don’t think this is going to work, daddy,” said Mr. Tolliver’s son.

“Well,” said Mr. Tolliver, “There’s got to be a way.”

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DOOR

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Mr. Tolliver maneuvered the refrigerator on to his dolly, hauled it up the driveway and porch steps, through the front door and into the dining room. Little beads of sweat popped out on his forehead.

Mr. Tolliver sighed and positioned the dolly near the door to the kitchen. The problem became apparent to all of us.

“I think we’ll need to take the kitchen door off its hinges,” Mr. Tolliver said.

I was paying Mr. Tolliver twenty dollars for the job. I had figured it would take an hour. Now it was obvious it was going to take a lot longer.

“I’m not sure I know how to take the door down,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” said Mr. Tolliver. “It’s part of the job.”

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SUPERMAN

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The door was tricky—it was mounted on a swivel base so it could swing open to either side. By the time Mr. Tolliver figured out the door, his son had grown restless.

“Can we go, daddy?” his son said.

“When the job’s done,” said Mr. Tolliver, calm as you please.

“When’s that gonna be?”

“When it’s done,” said Mr. Tolliver, his tone unchanged.

“Maybe you’d like to watch a movie?” Nora said to the boy.

We had one movie on VHS, the original Superman with Christopher Reeves. As I said, this was a long time ago.

Nora sat Mr. Tolliver’s son down to watch and Mr. Tolliver and I contemplated the refrigerator. It was too wide to fit through the doorway, even without the swinging door in place.

“I think we need to take the refrigerator door off,” said Mr. Tolliver.

“I’m sorry this is taking so much of your time,” I said. “I should have mentioned the door problem when you asked me.”

“No,” he said. “How could you have mentioned it if you didn’t know it would be a problem?”

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EINSTEIN

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By this time I was thinking how inadequate the $20 seemed for the job. Taking a refrigerator door off may have become simpler in the intervening years, but it wasn’t simple then. Mr. Tolliver hadn’t brought tools to do it. We had to improvise with what I had lying around, which wasn’t much.

At one point, after we’d spent a fruitless half hour trying to remove a screw with an irregular head, I said, “Well, that was for nothing.”

“No,” said Mr. Tolliver, “It wasn’t for nothing. We’re that much closer.”

His remark reminded me of Einstein, who in his later years published paper after paper detailing every fruitless path he took in his quest to find a unified field theory.

“Why publish these?” someone asked. “They’re all blind alleys.”

“So another poor fool won’t have to repeat them,” Einstein had said.

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THANK YOU

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Finally, three hours after Mr. Tolliver had arrived, it was done, the refrigerator in position in the kitchen, all the doors replaced intact. Mr. Tolliver went to the den to collect his son.

“It’s time to go,” said Mr. Tolliver. “Do you want to thank the nice people for letting you watch the movie?”

“But I didn’t get to finish it,” the boy said.

The last twenty minutes of the tape remained.

“Well, you can thank them for the part of the movie you did get to watch.”

“Thank you,” said the boy.

I paid Mr. Tolliver $40. I wanted to give him more but he said it was too much.

“I learned a lot today,” he said.

He deposited his son in the truck and drove away. I never saw him again. I never learned his first name.

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STORY

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I often think of applying Mr. Tolliver’s technique on Nick when he’s upset about something, say, running out of screen time before a program is finished. But it doesn’t work.

When Nick is frustrated, Nora and I have learned to let him work it out on his own. Often he retreats to his room and we can hear him talking to himself behind the closed door. He usually emerges reconciled after a few minutes.

Whenever I take a blind alley I think of Mr. Tolliver. I think of saying to myself, “It wasn’t for nothing. I’m that much closer.” But it’s no good. That doesn’t work either. My general approach to blind alleys seems to be to say to myself, “You suck,” although I try to say it in a voice that nobody else can hear.

So I’ve never been able to indulge my fantasy of one day being like Mr. Tolliver. The best I can do is tell the story, and remind myself that there is at least one such person in the world. Because once, I met him.

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EXPRESS YOURSELF!

Got a story about patience? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff skorman May 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm

very nice

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Wolf Pascoe May 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thanks, Jeff.

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Barbara May 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I love your honesty! I wish I could say I was like Mr. Tolliver, but I’m afraid I’m more like you, still trying to get there! But I think that’s something, isn’t it?
Barbara recently posted..Dark Shadows of the Soul (and Popcorn for Dinner Twice in One Week!)

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Wolf Pascoe May 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm

“I’m afraid I’m more like you . . . ”

I love your honesty!

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david May 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Thank you for telling this story, Wolf. You make it important by telling it. And I, for one, am enriched by it.

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Wolf Pascoe May 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I used to think stories should be told because they were important. But I’ve learned that telling what’s important to you is as good as it gets.

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Privilege of Parenting May 28, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I like Mr. Tolliver. He seems a bit of a phantom toll-booth collector, with a quiet whisper of wind in the willows and a hint of Siddhartha in the ordinary superman mix. Perhaps you can catch his reflection in the reflective opacity of cool doors.

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Wolf Pascoe May 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Definitely ordinary Superman Siddhartha.

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Sirena May 29, 2012 at 6:50 am

Wow. What an amazing story. I strive to be like Mr. Tolliver, but I’m prone to swearing when things don’t go right. An inspiration to us all.

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Wolf Pascoe May 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm

This reminds me of Little Bear, who can fly, but always flies down.

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Pamela May 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm

My general approach to blind alleys seems to be to say to myself, “You suck,” although I try to say it in a voice that nobody else can hear.

Me too buddy. Me too.

What a beautiful and graceful ode to a certain kind of man in wish I was more like. I feel so much better for having read this.

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Wolf Pascoe May 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Ode to a Siddhartha Superman. I like it.

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Kate May 29, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I have a new role model. To patience and broad-sightedness. To respect for the journey that is, and faith that that journey will get us where we want to go.

Today, my eyes were focused on fault, not progress. Which of course always includes mistakes. And tonight, I’ve been telling myself I suck for those failures. But maybe I can learn, maybe this is just part of the process of learning to use my limited tools better.

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Wolf Pascoe May 30, 2012 at 12:05 am

A lot of forgiveness in patience, there is.

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Kyle Bradford June 5, 2012 at 6:58 am

The world needs more men like that. I need to know more men like that, sit at their feet, shut up, and just listen.

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Wolf Pascoe June 5, 2012 at 7:31 am

Amen.

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Virge November 25, 2013 at 6:45 pm

A profound story, delightfully told. Superman, in the next room, completes a triad of some kind.

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Wolf Pascoe November 25, 2013 at 7:03 pm

You should’ve been there.

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